Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Art of the Matter

Another weekend has ended, another week has started, and another event is done and dusted.

 

The signing at Dymocks Southland turned out to be a lot of fun. I had a table set up at the front of the store and got the chance to chat with people as they came in. Quite a few people who’d never heard of Vanguard Prime before walked away with a copy of the book (signed, of course!), and even better than that was all the support that was expressed for Aussie authors and the publishing industry in general. Thanks so much to store owner Jerome for the opportunity! If you guys get the chance, make sure to drop by the store and check it out.

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Vanguard Prime: Goldrush has had three more reviews this week, the first (and worst) of which was written by…well, me. Let me explain. You see, in addition to being an awesome writer, Jack Heath is also really supportive of new authors. After I mentioned how influential Third Transmission was in the writing of Goldrush, Jack got in touch with me and we ended up hanging out. What a nice guy!

 

Cut to last week, where (or should that be ‘when’?) I got an email from Jack saying how he was asking various authors if they’d be interested in reviewing their own books, much as he did for his latest book, Dead Man Running. It was a daunting challenge to say the least, but one that I couldn’t possibly turn down. It proved to be a struggle, trying to walk the line between honest self-analysis, neurotic self-flagellation, and blatant self-promotion. Hopefully you’ll agree that I struck a decent balance.

 

A far more glowing review came from Vic and her blog, Mummy Ate Me. Any review that starts off with “I LOVED this book!” always heads straight to the top of the pile of favourite reviews. But! Vic may have been beaten out by the third and final review I received this week. This one came from 9-year-old Ethan, who actually took the time to do a review of Vanguard Prime: Goldrush…in diorama form! Thankfully, Ethan sent through some pictures and has given me permission to share them here.

For those who can’t make out what the text says, Ethan also generously provided a typed-out version. It says; “The Vanguard Prime team lives in a aircraft carrier with a prison on board and lots of aircraft. The characters of Vanguard Prime are super heroes. My favorite character is Ethan or the Knight of Wands. My other two favourites are Goldrush and Machina. The last of them is Agent Alpha, Gaia and Major Blackthorne. My favourite power is Machina’s. She can control technology. The bad guy is really hard to beat because stuff with his mind. His name is the Overman. Another is called Cronus and he is strong. He has a helmet with a horn.”

 

I honestly don’t think I could have summarised the book better myself.

 

If that wasn’t cool enough, Ethan also sent through the very first piece of fan art I’ve received! You may notice that the diorama contains an illustration of the Knight of Wands, but in addition to that Ethan provided this drawing of Goldrush;

 

Cool, right?

Very big thanks to Ethan; it’s reader mail like this that keeps authors writing! And if anyone else out there has some Vanguard Prime art they’d like to share, make sure to send it through (along with what name you’d like it credited to) and I’ll post it here on the blog.

‘Til next time.

Weddings, Parties, Moving

At the start of the year, just as we were about to start the editing process for Vanguard Prime: Goldrush, I was asked if I’d be interested in doing a freelance copywriting job. I was a little concerned about biting off more than I could chew, given that in addition to editing Goldrush I also had Book 2 in the series to write, as well as a full-time job. But the opportunity was way too exciting to turn down, so I said ‘Yes’, and now Party! The Ultimate Kids’ Party Book has been released!

My contribution to the book was fairly minimal, though it turned out to be a lot of fun. I wrote the introduction to the book and for each section, where ideas are outlined for throwing the perfect kids’ party. Basically, I got the chance to see how many puns I could cram into a piece of writing before making the publisher’s head explode.

And speaking of the publisher, you can watch Mary avoiding Larry Emdur’s efforts to tape up the studio on The Morning Show with Larry and Kylie. Don’t worry, that’ll make sense when you see the clip (note: tried to embed video. Failed).

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In addition to all this writing and working stuff, my fiance Simone and I have also been building a house. The original completion date was March 2013, but after speaking to the builder this week it’s looking more likely to be ready by mid-November. As in, eight weeks from now. We’re also getting married in December – which is never a stressful thing to organise in itself – so adding a house move into the mix seems like a genius idea. Not that I’m complaining, mind you! I swear I’m not the 1%! I’m 5%, tops!

Part of the excitement about the new house is the fact that I’ll be getting an office, where I’ll be able to display all my curios and memorabilia (read: toys) and indulge in quiet study and introspective work (write make-believe stories about people who can fly).

Ideally, I’m picturing this is what it’ll look like (plus toys);

Given my track record, however, it’ll end up looking like this (plus toys);

Sigh.

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One of the best things about being engaged is that you get to rope your partner into helping you out when you do stuff, which means that Simone will be with me on Saturday for the Dymocks Southland event. Make sure to come by and provide us with any tips you can about hiring movers and packing up your belongings. Or, ya know, I could sign a book for you or something.

‘Til next time.

The Ideas Shoppe: 5 Things I’ve Learnt About Writing

My post about what I’d learnt from being published generated a bit of interest, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore the subject of writing in greater detail. This time, I’m going to outline five pointers I’ve picked up through the study and practice of writing. Hopefully it’ll be of some help…but make sure to heed Point #5, which is probably the most important point of all!

1. Don’t Be Wishy-Washy

I’ve always had an issue with describing action that’s about to happen, rather than the actions themselves. When going through both the proofreading and the editing stages, I do everything I can to remove terms like “seems to”, “try to”, “almost”, “slowly”, and every phrasing that positions the character as passive, rather than active. The fewer qualifiers you use, the stronger your writing will be. Of course, as with all rules this one will sometimes need to be broken, but the trick is to be more conscious of making that choice.

2. Pick a Perspective and Stick to It

Jumping from one character’s point-of-view to another is one of the major hallmarks of a first-time writer, and the faster you jump the more off-putting it can be to your reader. Distinguish for yourself from the onset whose perspective will best serve the story and stick to it. That’s not to say you can’t write things from the point-of-view of an omniscient narrator, but I tend to fit that a POV like that works best in small doses. You can find ways to change perspective if you need to, whether through chapter or paragraph breaks. But avoid switching POVs in the same slab of text.

3. Have Something Happen in Every Chapter

The temptation for a writer is to indulge themselves in description, to fill their stories with rich detail, poetic imagery and unique metaphors. It’s so tempting that you can lose yourself in it, which will often leave readers bored as they slog through all this description to get to the actual story buried underneath. I could write an entry in itself on how description is best used to reflect mood and character, but the main point I want to make is that the way you create momentum in your story – and how you keep the reader engaged – is to make sure that you include at least one notable story development in every chapter. Don’t miss the opportunity to include a new piece of information, a new complication. Which leads to…

4. Pose Questions to Your Reader and Make Sure to Answer Them…Eventually

Every story is essentially a mystery story. It starts with something going wrong (as almost all stories do) and then the central question becomes “How will the character fix this problem?”. But along the way, you can pose a variety of other questions to the reader. One trick is to have the characters reference something or someone, make the reader curious about this person or object, and when the time is right reveal the nature of the subject in question. Make sure to not string out your reveal, however, and always keep track of what information you’ve provided and what you haven’t.

5. Everyone’s Approach is Different

By all means, listen to what the authors you admire have to say, but always remember that there’s no prescribed method of writing. Take the best advice – in other words, the advice that most applies to you – and use it to synthesize your own approach.

 

‘Til next time.

 

The Adventures of Links

I’m currently working on two new blog posts, both of them part of The Ideas Shoppe. They’re also both on the wordy side, so they’re taking a bit more time to complete than I’d like, especially as I’m aiming to have a new blog post up every week. So in the meantime, I thought I’d provide some updates of what’s been going on Vanguard Prime-wise.

 

The September issue of DMAG has a review of Vanguard Prime: Goldrush, while the September issue of K-ZONE has an interview with me in it. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide some scans soon. Vanguard Prime: Goldrush is also reviewed in the latest issue of Magpies magazine, a publication for librarians and teachers, where they have a lot of positive things to say about it. Check the Books page for quotes!

 

Penguin’s Off the Shelf magazine has a double-page spread on the Vanguard Prime team, which you can see right here. The best part is that it separates out the characters so you get to see Chad McCown’s awesome illustrations unobscured. Adelaide’s Sunday Mail also ran an interview with me that featured the members of the team, which you can read here. And the Goodreads entry for the book is sprouting more readers every week, with a couple of really insightful reviews up as well.

 

I handed in the manuscript for Book 3 a couple of weeks ago now and have started work on Book 4, though I may be getting ahead of myself as Book 4 isn’t currently contracted. If you’ve read Goldrush and want to see the series continue, make sure to tell all your friends and family about it! Nothing sells books like good word of mouth!

 

And finally, I think it’s worth mentioning again that I’ll be at Dymocks Southland on Saturday 22nd September from 1-3pm. Come and say hi!

 

‘Til next time.

5 Things I Didn’t Know About Being an Author

Even though I’ve worked in the publishing industry for over five years now, there were still a few things that took me by surprise when my book was picked up. In the interest of helping out other aspiring writers, here’s five things I learned when I went from working with books to writing them;

 

1. You have to provide your own author photo.

My contract is a pretty standard one, and it details that providing an author photo is my responsibility and is to be done at my expense. I don’t know if there are any authors to whom this stipulation doesn’t apply.

 

Being a cheap cuss, I solved that issue by getting my photo taken by my fiance in our living room. We had to do this across two nights because the first evening was spent working out the best way of taking the photo. It seems like an easy thing to do until you’re faced with the prospect of it being disseminated across the Internet and printed in the paper.

 

We used two different cameras, both of which we had a lot of trouble getting focused correctly. When the image wasn’t blurry, I would generally have a weird expression on my face. When I didn’t have a weird expression on my face, the light wasn’t right (or it was reflecting in my glasses). I’m not that comfortable about getting my photo taken in the first place, so the entire process was a special kind of torture, and that showed in my face for most of the pictures.

 

Natural light ran out before we got the photo on the first night, so we gave up and tried again the next evening. Thankfully, we eventually got a photo that was decent. It was a little blurry but I didn’t mind that as it gave the whole thing a vaseline lens feel. Of course, that was a rookie move on my part, as this image needed to accompany print interviews and it’s not a great look for your photo to be out of focus.

 

When that became an issue, I had to quickly get another photo taken with help from a friend at work. The second time was almost as difficult as the first! One of these days I’ll have to get a professional shot taken, but in the meantime you can learn from my mistakes and get one done by a photographer in advance, because you never know when you’ll be asked for it!

 

2. You’ll need to practice your signature (as well as have some witty things to inscribe!).

My penmanship is terrible, so it was strange to think that people may want me to write something in their books. Also, my signature is little more than a few slanted pen strokes, which worried me that people would feel cheated if all I gave them was an illegible scribble in their book, so I sat down and practiced a clearer signature.

 

Not only did I come up with a legible John Hancock, I also worked out a few phrases to offer people. But one thing I didn’t count on was inscribing books for people I knew! Many friends and family at the Vanguard Prime: Goldrush launch were left with bizarre things written in their books as I desperately tried to figure out something witty to scrawl out. Trust me, it’s hard to do when you’re trying to maintain a conversation at the same time! Do your best to work it out in advance!

 

But I think the most important thing in all this is to practice your pen(person)ship. You may feel like it’s redundant given how much work is done on computers these days, but there may come a day when you need to write things down in longhand. You don’t want people thinking a kindergartener has gotten hold of the Mont Blanc!

 

3. You’ll need to get good at talking to people and crowds, and you’ll need to do it fast.

You may have grown up wanting to be a writer after finding it difficult to connect with people. You may have done it as a way to escape the hardship you faced in the everyday world, to assuage the anxiety that socializing caused you. I know that’s what I did.

 

But the fact is, there’s no greater advocate for your book than you. And if you want it to be a success, and if you want to get the chance to write more books, you’re going to have to go out there and talk to people. And you’re going to have to be good at it.

 

If this is a weak spot for you, your publisher may provide media training for you. With budgets being what they are these days, however, the chances of that aren’t great. I’ve never been what you’d call a social butterfly, but one way I found of overcoming my stage fright was through drama classes.

 

I took drama in high school and the lessons I learned there have carried through to this day. Whenever I’m in a situation where I have to speak in front of a large crowd and I’m feeling nervous about it, I do two things. The first thing I try to do is harness that nervous energy. Use it as a fuel to overcome your obstacle.

 

The second is to imagine that this isn’t you. That this is a performance you’re putting on, a character you’re enacting, and that even if you “fail”, it’s not really you who’s failing. It may sound slightly mad, but it works.

 

I thought I’d have to prove my abilities to speak in front of crowds to my publisher. And that’s kind of what happens, but only by having your publisher throw you in the deep end and seeing if you swim. And you owe it to yourself to swim.

 

So whenever you’re asked if you want to appear somewhere or participate in some event, no matter what it is and no matter how nervous you may be about it, you have to say ‘yes’.

 

(And as a final note on this topic; make sure to work out a way to encapsulate your book that sounds interesting, and that can be expanded upon if necessary. You need to convince whoever’s listening that your book is worth picking up, especially when they’ve never heard of it before. I’m still working on this one!).

 

4. Even when you’ve “made it”, you still haven’t made it.

When I was toiling away on my manuscript, I imagined what it would be like to see my book on store shelves and the feeling of perfect contentment that would wash over me as a result. That was the dream that kept me going. It’s no doubt the dream that keeps a lot of people going.

 

But here’s the thing; even when you achieve that, you still haven’t “made it”. You may have achieved the status of “author”, but now you need to retain the status of author. The goal posts never stop shifting. The first goal is to get published. The next goal is to keep getting published. You need to make sure you’re in this for the long haul, because if you aren’t it’s easy to become one of those many anonymous authors whose books line the walls of second-hand shops, never to be heard from again.

 

5. What a dinkus is.

You know that little emblem that will sometimes be used in books to break up the text? In the Vanguard Prime series, it’s the team’s insignia. That’s a dinkus. The publishing team works together with the author to work out what that little symbol will be. It’s also my new favourite word. Dinkus, dinkus, dinkus.

Awesome.